JOEY SIVERD FROM RICHMOND, VA: The season and offense do not look promising as of yet, whether the quarterback or the offensive coordinator is the culprit, or whether it’s something else. Can you recall a season or multiple seasons where the first few games looked similarly bleak but where the team ended up doing not so bad by the end?
ANSWER: There have been a bunch of seasons that match your description, and here are just a few I can recall off the top of my head.
There was 1976, when the Steelers started out 1-4 and then were going to have to play the next six weeks without Terry Bradshaw, who had been cheap-shotted into the turf head-first by Turkey Jones in Cleveland. At the time, Myron Cope said that if the Steelers rebounded to make the playoffs, he would swim across the Monongahela River in February. Those Steelers advanced to the AFC Championship Game, and Cope went for a swim.
In 1989, the Steelers lost their first two games – at home to Cleveland and at Cincinnati – by a combined 92-10 but rebounded to make the playoffs as a Wild Card and then came within a dropped pass by Mark Stock of advancing to the AFC Championship Game. In 1993, the Steelers scored one touchdown in their first two games – losses to San Francisco and a shutout by the Rams – and qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card. In 1997, the Steelers lost to Dallas, 37-0, in the opener, and then again to Jacksonville, 30-21, in the third game but eventually played in the AFC Championship Game. In 2002, the Steelers were outscored, 60-31, in two losses to open the season but qualified for the playoffs as a Wild Card and advanced to the Divisional Round.
RONALD WALL FROM SHADY VALLEY, TN: Am I mistaken, but I thought when we lined up for the final field goal attempt in Cleveland, it was fourth-and-5, but then after a 5-yard penalty on the Browns, why was it fourth-and-1 instead of a first down?
ANSWER: Often during the course of a game, the down-and-distance is explained in a way that isn’t necessarily strictly accurate. In that case, when the announcers referred to the situation as fourth-and-5, the actual distance to the line to gain was more than 5 yards but not quite 6 yards. Following the penalty, and then the mark-off of the yardage, the ball still was short of the line to gain. That’s why a 5-yard penalty assessed on a “fourth-and-5” didn’t result in a first down.
ANTHONY PELLONI FROM PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: When a player goes on injured reserve, what does work look like for him? Do they have to report to the facility? Be present for meetings/practices? Are they allowed so see doctors or therapists away from the Steelers facility?
ANSWER: For players on the injured reserve list, their work week is all about conditioning and rehabilitation, which can happen at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex or at some other location, depending upon the specifics of the individual’s injury and the rehabilitation program that’s required. Players on the injured reserve list are not permitted to practice.
JAMES MacPHERSON FROM BEACHWOOD, NJ: With the offensive line starting to look better, barring injury will Kendrick Green ever be active on game day?
ANSWER: If there are no injuries, that would mean the backups would never get into a game. And if the backups never get into a game, and the starters continue to “look better,” I would imagine things would remain as they have been.
RICH BALLANTYNE FROM VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA: “Consistently inconsistent” officiating is one of your peeves. I somewhat agree but am still amazed by what they get right. I expect that somewhere one can find statistics on percentage of overturned calls via replay – for those calls that are subject to review. But does the NFL conduct postgame reviews of calls and non-calls of judgements like holding and pass interference to further guide officials? If so, is the information public?
ANSWER: Yes, the league reviews and grades officials for calls and non-calls, and those grades help determine which officials and which crews are assigned to work the postseason. Is the information public? My sense is that you have a better chance of seeing Commissioner Roger Goodell’s tax returns that you do of seeing those grades.
DAREN POSEY FROM OKLAHOMA CITY, OK: The offensive line has been performing better on run blocking, creating seams and holes at a more consistent rate. But it doesn’t seem as though Najee Harris is seeing the whole field, too often following the blockers instead of seeing the openings. What would you think of giving Jaylen Warren more touches?
ANSWER: I would suggest the more prudent approach would be to spend time working with the No. 1 pick on improving in this area – if indeed the coaches believe it needs work – rather than to give more carries to the undrafted rookie.
LARS RASMUSSEN FROM COPENHAGEN, DENMARK: I read in Asked and Answered that no player has worn No. 32 since Franco Harris. Are there other numbers among the Steelers greats of the 1970s that have not been worn since those days?
ANSWER: Here is a list of jersey numbers of Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that have not been worn since that particular player’s career ended: No. 12 since Terry Bradshaw, No. 36 since Jerome Bettis, No. 43 since Troy Polamalu, No. 52 since Mike Webster, No. 58 since Jack Lambert, and No. 63 since Dermontti Dawson. And a player on the practice squad wearing a number doesn’t count.
DAVE SARP FROM WILMINGTON, NC: I sort of remember that the Steelers did not want to start either Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger right away, but circumstances beyond the control of the respective head coaches changed that. Am I right?
ANSWER: In 2004, Bill Cowher opened the season with Tommy Maddox as the starting quarterback, and there’s no real way to determine how long he would’ve stayed with Maddox had he not been injured in the season’s second game, which was in Baltimore vs. the Ravens. But Chuck Noll took an entirely different approach in 1970 during Terry Bradshaw’s rookie season. Bradshaw started the first four games of his rookie season, and even though he was pulled from the last of those starts for poor performance – Bradshaw did throw an NFL-worst 24 interceptions in that 14-game season – he was back in the starting lineup the following week. And that’s generally how things progressed during a season when the Steelers finished 5-9. Bradshaw started eight games but didn’t necessarily finish all of them because of poor performance, and Terry Hanratty started the rest but didn’t necessarily finish all of them because of poor performance. But at no point did Noll indicate he was wanting to bring Bradshaw along slowly, because in 1971 Bradshaw started 13 games, and in 1972 he started all 14 games during that regular season.